'You want to ban the books? I’m giving them away.' Activists protest Florida book-ban law
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MELBOURNE — With large cutouts of state and local government officials' faces mounted on poles, community activists gathered around a fire made of cardboard and tissue paper to hold a fake "book burning" across the street from Melbourne High School on Saturday morning.
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! The stupid woke have got to go!” shouted Philip Stasik, the former president of Space Coast Progressive Alliance, who wore a shirt that read “Dark Money.”
Other progressive activists, dressed as Gov. Ron DeSantis, state Rep. Randy Fine, Moms For Liberty Founder Tina Descovich, Brevard School Board Chairman Matt Susin and Moms for Liberty member Michelle Beavers, stood behind the phony fire shouting in favor of banning books.
Beside them, a group of people yelled in favor of the freedom to keep books on shelves, available to be read by all.
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All of this was part of one demonstration organized by Foundation 451, a nonprofit providing banned and challenged books to Brevard students, and Awake Brevard Action Alliance, a nonpartisan group that promotes rallies in the county. The mock burning was held at 11 a.m. on the four corners at the intersection of Bulldog Boulevard and Babcock Street in Melbourne, and drew about 50 protesters.
The protest used a technique called guerrilla theater, a performance method that is often performed in public places to draw attention to political or social issues through the use of satire. More than 100 titles were available to students at the rally for free, with parents asked to make a donation if they were picking up books.
The act of protest against the book bans that have taken place across Florida over the past two years, with books being challenged or removed from shelves altogether in school libraries throughout the state, was something Adam Tritt came up with in December, he said.
“I said, ‘We need guerrilla theater, we need something, this is what we do,” said the founder of Foundation 451 and a Brevard County teacher, adding that the idea was to act out burning the books through the use of the cardboard props.
“I want people to realize this is happening,” Tritt said.
It’s a goal he shared with Fara Megargee, one of the founders of Awake Brevard Action Alliance, and Dan McDow, a city council member for West Melbourne. The three hoped to bring awareness to the book bannings and classroom restrictions throughout the county and state.
Though plans for the rally were made in December, the timing of the rally came less than a week after Manatee County’s school district told all secondary school classrooms to remove or cover their classroom libraries until the books could be reviewed under new state standards. Teachers with unvetted materials or books found to be inappropriate could face a third-degree felony charge.
In Brevard, books have been challenged since March of 2022, with Beavers first raising concerns about reading material that may not be appropriate for children. In December, the school board proposed a rule that nine books slated for formal review would only be available to students age 18 or older, or students with written permission, while the review committee completes its work.
With DeSantis recently ruling against allowing an Advanced Placement course in African-American history to be taught in high schools, Megargee said she views the banning of books and related actions by politicians as an erasure of history.
“We’re looking at basically DeSantis and everyone trying to strip away history, Black history, not only in elementary, high school and now colleges. And we’re just out here to make a stand about it,” she said.
Lisa Superina lives in Melbourne Beach. Before that, she was a teacher of Italian language in a New York high school for 32 years.
Seeing reading restricted among children is disturbing to her as both a former teacher and as an American, she said.
“Fascism isn’t just going to show up one day and say, ‘I’m here,’ and take all your rights away,” she said. “It’s creeping in, in increments, and this is the start … right now it’s blatant, in our face, and they’re starting with the books.”
Tritt, who has distributed more than 1,200 books since the start of Foundation 451 in March 2022, said he’s determined to continue giving banned books away. He added that he only gives them to students who are 16 years old with an ID, or students accompanied by a parent.
“You want to ban the books? I’m giving them away,” he said. “You want me to be quiet about it? Give me a megaphone. You don’t like this book? Can I get 50 copies of it, please? And we’re going to give them to the kids, with parents’ permission.”
Finch Walker is the education reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at 321-290-4744 or email@example.com. Twitter: @_finchwalker
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Mock 'book burning' near Melbourne High protests Florida book bans